By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 21, 2011
Chapter 17 The Joys of Misery
Among all elite U.S. forces, the Marine Corps is unique in that its standards for strength, athleticism and physical hardiness are not exceptional. What separates Marines, instead, is their capacity to endure adversity.
U.S. Marines on the island of Tarawa, November 1943
Marines take a perverse pride in having colder chow, crappier equipment and higher casualty rates than any other service. This notion goes back to Belleau Wood and earlier, but it came into its own during the exceptionally bloody and punishing battles at Tarawa and Iwo Jima, the Chosin Reservoir and Khe Sanh. Marines take pride in enduring hell. Nothing infuriates Marines more than to learn that some particularly nasty and dangerous assignment has been given to the Army instead of to them. It offends their sense of honor.
This is another key element of the Warrior Ethos: the willing and eager embracing of adversity.
In 1912, the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton was seeking volunteers for an expedition to the South Pole. He placed the following ad in the London Times:
Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful; honor and recognition in case of success. (more…)
By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 28, 2011
Chapter 19. The Will to Victory
When Alexander was a boy, a party of traders came to Pella, the Macedonian capital, selling trained warhorses. Philip the king and all his officers went down to the plain to put these mounts through their paces.
Head of Bucephalus from the Seleucid era
One horse, called Bucephalus, was by far the fastest, strongest and bravest—but he was so wild that no one could ride him. Alexander watched as his father let the steed go without making an offer. “What a fine mount you lose, Father,” he said, “for want of spirit to ride him.” At this, the king and all his officers laughed. “And what will you pay for this horse, my son—if you can ride him?” “All of my prince’s inheritance.” So they let the boy try.
Now, Alexander had noticed something about the horse that no one else had—that the beast was spooked by its own shadow. So he took Bucephalus’s bridle and turned him to face into the sun. Then, little by little, speaking gently to him and stroking his neck, he succeeded in quieting the steed down; next, with a quick leap, he sprung onto the horse’s back. Philip and the officers watched in breathless trepidation as the prince took this fiery (more…)
By Steven Pressfield | Published: April 4, 2011
Chapter 20 Die Laughing
The warrior sense of humor is terse, dry—and dark. Its purpose is to deflect fear and to reinforce unity and cohesion.
Bill Mauldin won a Pulitzer for this "Willie and Joe" cartoon
The Warrior Ethos dictates that the soldier make a joke of pain and laugh at adversity. Here is Leonidas on the final morning at Thermopylae:
“Now eat a good breakfast, men. For we’ll all be sharing dinner in hell.”
Spartans liked to keep things short. Once one of their generals captured a city. His dispatch home said, “City taken.” The magistrates fined him for being verbose. “Taken,” they said, would have sufficed.
The river of Athens is the Kephisos; the river in Sparta is the Eurotas. One time, an Athenian and a Spartan were trading insults.
“We have buried many Spartans,” said the Athenian, “beside the Kephisos.” “Yes,” replied the Spartan, “but we have buried no Athenians beside the Eurotas.”